Mask confusion: School districts that have been ordered to tell the state how they plan to comply with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order, which says districts with face mask mandates must give parents the option to opt-out, responded Wednesday with basically the same answer: We are complying with the mandate, because our decisions are justified given the spread of the coronavirus, and we aren’t changing our decisions to require students to wear face masks in schools with opt-outs allowed only for medical reasons. The state has disagreed with that argument from two other school districts, in Broward and Alachua, and is withholding funds that are equivalent to the monthly salaries of their school board members, despite a Leon County judge’s ruling last Friday that the governor’s order is unconstitutional. DeSantis has said the state will appeal the ruling as soon as the judge files it in writing. So far, 13 school districts are defying DeSantis’ order, and they too are under the threat of losing funding. Florida Phoenix. Miami Herald. Sun Sentinel. Palm Beach Post. WPTV. WPEC. WFOR. WTSP. WFLA. Tampa Bay Times. Orlando Sentinel. WESH. WJXT. Florida Times-Union. WTLV. WKMG. Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Health News Florida. WKMG. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody stepped into the topic this week when asked by the Suwannee County School Board’s attorney for an opinion on what the district should do on face mask mandates. She advised him that “the judiciary has not declared the rule to be invalid, and as such, this advisory opinion clearly states that multiple school districts are breaking the law by violating parents’ rights. Today, the department is urging every school district that has mandated masks without an opt-out to promptly change its policies and comply with Florida’s rules and laws.” Miami Herald. WTXL.
Schools, COVID, politics: The escalating partisanship in politics is being played out in the fight over school mask mandates in Florida. Gov. DeSantis doesn’t want them, and is willing to financially punish school districts that have them even after a judge has ruled that his position is unconstitutional. “It’s very volatile,” said Susan MacManus, a retired University of South Florida political scientist. “There are so many balls in the air right now it’s almost overwhelming for voters to try to follow what’s going on.” Sun Sentinel. Schools, businesses and governments that demand proof of vaccinations before providing services will be fined $5,000 per incident, according to a new Florida Department of Health rule. Tampa Bay Times.
Around the state: The deaths of two more Miami-Dade County teachers from COVID-19 were reported this week, Edward White High School in Jacksonville has been closed until after Labor Day because of an outbreak of the coronavirus, a retreat for students at a private school in Miami-Dade County led to nearly every student being quarantined until next week, district administrators in Pinellas County will be assigned a day a month through December to substitute as a way to address shortages, the Sarasota County chiropractor who offered students medical opt-out forms signed more than 500 of them, and a Bay County dermatologist is apologizing for advising students to lie to school nurses to avoid quarantines. Here are details about those stories and others from the state’s districts, private schools, and colleges and universities:
Miami-Dade: Two more district teachers have died of complications from the coronavirus. Abe Coleman, a teacher at Holmes Elementary School in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood who had worked for the district since 1989, died just before the first day of school Aug. 23. Michael Thomas, a teacher at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in Miami-Dade’s West Little River neighborhood who had worked in the district since 2006, died Monday. Neither had been vaccinated, according to district officials. Miami Herald. WPLG. WTVJ. Five of the 600 high school students at Westminster Christian School in Palmetto Bay contracted the coronavirus at an annual retreat in Georgia in the middle of August, sending nearly the entire school home to quarantine. Miami Herald.
Broward: A student at Central Charter School in Lauderdale Lakes was taken into custody Wednesday after a threat was made against the school, according to sheriff’s deputies. The nature of the threat was not disclosed. WPLG. WFOR. WTVJ.
Palm Beach: Mobile vaccination clinics will visit all 23 public high schools, starting as soon as Sept. 8 and making stops at one or two high schools a day to offer shots to students 12 and older. The project is a collaboration between the district and health officials. Palm Beach Post.
Duval: A third school in the county has closed because of rising number of coronavirus cases. Edward White High School in Jacksonville is closing today through Sept. 8, and students will switch to remote learning. Baldwin Middle-High School and Fletcher Middle School temporarily closed last week. Baldwin reopened Wednesday, and Fletcher is schedule to reopen today. Florida Times-Union. WJXT. WJCT. WTLV.
Pinellas: About 300 workers in the school district’s administrative offices will be assigned to work as substitute teachers one day a month at least through December because of the ongoing shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “In an effort to support our sites during this challenging time, we will begin utilizing all certified district staff as of Wednesday, Sept. 8, to assist in filling teacher absences,” according to an e-mail sent to those workers. “Unfilled positions at all of our sites will be analyzed daily and coverage will be provided in order of need.” Tampa Bay Times. Florida Politics.
Brevard: About a dozen opponents of mandatory masks in schools picketed outside the Satellite Beach home of school board member Jennifer Jenkins on Wednesday night after the board voted to impose a face mask mandate for students for the next 30 days, with opt-outs permitted only for medical reasons. Jenkins has been the most vocal advocate of requiring students to wear masks. Florida Today. The CEO of Parrish Medical Center said a school board member misrepresented the hospital’s data when he argued against a classroom mask mandate at a meeting this week. George Mikitarian didn’t name the member, but it was Matt Susin who brought up the data at the meeting and said it showed the virus may have already peaked, that hospitalizations were declining, and that the worst of the pandemic may be over. Florida Today.
St. Johns: An attorney who’s also the mother of a child with a learning disability has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the school district, alleging it is discriminating against her 10-year-old son and others who have COVID or have been quarantined by not requiring students and staff to wear face masks in schools. “My child received special services at school,” said Angelique Kelley. “And unfortunately, at this time, he’s home, he’s unable to go to school.” WTLV.
Sarasota: The Venice chiropractor who offered medical opt-out forms for students who don’t want to wear masks at school signed more than 500, according to district officials. That’s about a third of all medical opt-out forms turned in to the district so far. School officials reacted by creating a new opt-out form that can be signed only by medical doctors, licensed osteopathic physicians or advanced registered nurse practitioners. Superintendent Brennan Asplen said the new policy is intended to make the district “consistent in our consideration of whether medical reasons warrant individuals to be exempt from the policy and to prevent abuse.” Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Charlotte Sun.
Escambia: Local and state politicians are trying to find funding to build a pedestrian bridge over a busy road to Beulah Middle School in Pensacola. The school district is now busing the students from subdivisions across the street because there is no safe way for students to cross Nine Mile Road. Pensacola News Journal.
Okaloosa, Walton: Two more districts are increasing pay for substitute teachers as a way to address the continuing shortage. In Okaloosa, subs will be paid $20 an hour, which will increase a day’s pay from the current $90-$115 range to $150. In the Walton school district, subs with teaching certificates will get $3 more per hour, from $13 to $16, which will increase daily pay from $97 to $120. Pay was also raised for subs with degrees but no certification, and for those with a high school diploma. Northwest Florida Daily News.
Bay: A dermatologist in Panama City has apologized for a Facebook post advising parents of students to lie to school nurses to avoid quarantines. “I regret making that statement. I posted as a frustrated parent who highly values education. My response was emotional and I realize that it was inappropriate and does not reflect the values of me, my family, or my business,” Dr. Jon Ward said in a statement. Superintendent Bill Husfelt responded publicly by saying, “It is absolutely reprehensible to me that anyone would tell our parents to teach our children to lie to us if they had been exposed or if they had COVID or if they had the vaccine.” Panama City News Herald.
Martin: County detectives are trying to identify the person who wrote a note threatening to shoot nine Jensen Beach High School students on Sept. 8. The note was found beside a teacher’s desk Friday, and it included the names of the students being threatened. “It was addressed to himself. It’s a memo to self, letter to self. Bring your gun to school on the date that we mentioned and shoot your intended targets,” said Sheriff William Snyder. “It’s pretty blunt. It’s pretty graphic. … We’re absolutely reacting as if that threat will be carried out.” WPTV. WPEC.
Colleges and universities: Edward Waters University in Jacksonville has exceeded 1,000 enrolled students for the first time in almost 20 years, the school announced this week. The number of first-year students increased by 27 percent, to a record 531. Florida Times-Union. Florida State University is asking a judge to dismiss a potential class-action lawsuit that seeks refunds after students were moved off campus in the spring of 2020 because of the pandemic and forced into remote learning. News Service of Florida.
Around the nation: Richard Grenell, a former official in the Trump administration, wants to put a measure before California voters in 2022 that would set aside $13,000 a year per student in education savings accounts that those students can use to attend private schools or spend on other educational choices. Politico.
Education podcasts: West Virginia state Sen. Patricia Rucker talks with Step Up For Students president Doug Tuthill about that state’s expansion of school choice, including more open enrollment for students, stronger charter schools law, the creation of an education savings account program available to most students, and alternative ways for teachers to become certified. reimaginED.
Opinions on schools: A judge’s ruling that the state’s order on face masks is unconstitutional didn’t seem to matter in Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s decision to punish school boards in Broward and Alachua, the first to pass mask mandates for students. In fact, he didn’t even mention the ruling in his statement, in which he wrote — clueless as to the irony — that, “Elected officials cannot pick and choose what laws they want to follow.” Miami Herald. Gov. DeSantis and Corcoran should stop pandering to the anti-mask fringe and start looking out for children. Their battle against the school districts is reckless public policy and a loser legally and politically. Tampa Bay Times.